Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Zuckerberg: Facebook Deleted Posts Linked to Russian ‘Troll Factory’ 

Facebook, expanding its response to people using the platform improperly, said Tuesday that it had deleted hundreds of Russian accounts and pages associated with a “troll factory” indicted by U.S. prosecutors for fake activist and political posts in the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

Facebook said many of the deleted articles and pages came from Russia-based Federal News Agency, known as FAN, and that the social media company’s security team had concluded that the agency was technologically and structurally intertwined with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg told Reuters in an exclusive interview that the agency “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere.”

Massive data collection

The world’s largest social media company is under pressure to improve its handling of data after disclosing that information about 50 million Facebook users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.

The removed accounts and pages were mainly in Russian, and many had little political import, the company said. Previously Facebook focused on taking down fake accounts and accounts spreading fake news. The new policy will include otherwise legitimate content spread by those same actors, Zuckerberg said.

“It is clear from the evidence that we’ve collected that those organizations are controlled and operated by” the Internet Research Agency, he added.

In February, the agency known as IRA was among three firms and 13 Russians indicted by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller on charges they conspired to tamper in the presidential campaign and support Trump while disparaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russian media organization RBC last year reported that FAN and IRA once shared the same street address and had other connections. One of the people that it said made decisions at FAN was indicted by Mueller’s office, which is investigating U.S. intelligence agency conclusions that Moscow tried to undermine the democratic process. Russia denies interfering in the elections.

Ban accounts

Facebook disclosed in September that Russians used Facebook to meddle in U.S. politics, posting on the social network under false names in the months before and after the 2016 elections.

Zuckerberg said Tuesday that improved machine learning had helped find connections between the latest posts and IRA. He and Facebook security officials said the company would do the same when they find more legitimate content being pushed out by groups exposed as manipulators.

“We’re going to execute and operate under our principles,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t allow people to have fake accounts, and if you repeatedly try to set up fake accounts to manipulate things, then our policy is to ban all of your accounts.”

Zuckerberg said that the standard is high for such retribution toward news organizations and that state-owned media by itself was fine.

The company decided to root out as much as it can of IRA, which was involved with posts including sponsoring fake pages that were pro-Trump, pro-border security and protesting police violence against minorities, among other topics.

The expanded response could provoke a backlash from Russian internet regulators.

Last October, Google followed up on reported connections between FAN and IRA by removing FAN stories from its search index. Media regulator Roskomnadzor asked Google for an explanation, saying that it needed to protect free speech.

Google then reinstated FAN, according to reports at the time. Facebook officials said its accounts and pages in question had 1 million unique followers on Facebook and 500,000 on Instagram, mainly in Russia, Ukraine, and nearby countries such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his college dorm room in 2004, personally kept quiet about the Cambridge Analytica data leak for four days before apologizing and outlining steps that he said would help protect personal data.

The 33-year-old billionaire plans to testify before U.S. lawmakers to explain Facebook’s privacy policies, a first for him, a source said last week, although he has so far not committed to doing the same for U.K. lawmakers.

Multiple investigations

Britain’s data protection authority, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and 37 U.S. state attorneys general are investigating Facebook’s handling of personal data.

Zuckerberg initially downplayed Facebook’s ability to sway voters, saying days after the U.S. elections that it was a “pretty crazy idea” that fake news stories had an influence.

Eventually, though, Facebook’s security staff concluded that the social network was being used by spies and other government agents to covertly spread disinformation among rivals and enemies.

Critics including U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have complained Facebook moved too slowly to investigate and counter information warfare. 

Facebook stepped up efforts to shutter fake accounts before a national election last year in France, and has said it will work with election authorities around the world to try to prevent meddling in politics.

The company, which is now one of the main ways politicians advertise to voters, plans to start a public archive showing all election-related ads, how much money was spent on each one, the number of impressions each receives and the demographics of the audience reached.

Facebook is on track to bring that data to U.S. voters before congressional elections in November, Zuckerberg said Tuesday. Facebook plans to send postcards by U.S. mail to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising.

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Zuckerberg: Facebook Deleted Posts Linked to Russian ‘Troll Factory’ 

Facebook, expanding its response to people using the platform improperly, said Tuesday that it had deleted hundreds of Russian accounts and pages associated with a “troll factory” indicted by U.S. prosecutors for fake activist and political posts in the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

Facebook said many of the deleted articles and pages came from Russia-based Federal News Agency, known as FAN, and that the social media company’s security team had concluded that the agency was technologically and structurally intertwined with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg told Reuters in an exclusive interview that the agency “has repeatedly acted to deceive people and manipulate people around the world, and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere.”

Massive data collection

The world’s largest social media company is under pressure to improve its handling of data after disclosing that information about 50 million Facebook users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.

The removed accounts and pages were mainly in Russian, and many had little political import, the company said. Previously Facebook focused on taking down fake accounts and accounts spreading fake news. The new policy will include otherwise legitimate content spread by those same actors, Zuckerberg said.

“It is clear from the evidence that we’ve collected that those organizations are controlled and operated by” the Internet Research Agency, he added.

In February, the agency known as IRA was among three firms and 13 Russians indicted by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller on charges they conspired to tamper in the presidential campaign and support Trump while disparaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russian media organization RBC last year reported that FAN and IRA once shared the same street address and had other connections. One of the people that it said made decisions at FAN was indicted by Mueller’s office, which is investigating U.S. intelligence agency conclusions that Moscow tried to undermine the democratic process. Russia denies interfering in the elections.

Ban accounts

Facebook disclosed in September that Russians used Facebook to meddle in U.S. politics, posting on the social network under false names in the months before and after the 2016 elections.

Zuckerberg said Tuesday that improved machine learning had helped find connections between the latest posts and IRA. He and Facebook security officials said the company would do the same when they find more legitimate content being pushed out by groups exposed as manipulators.

“We’re going to execute and operate under our principles,” Zuckerberg said. “We don’t allow people to have fake accounts, and if you repeatedly try to set up fake accounts to manipulate things, then our policy is to ban all of your accounts.”

Zuckerberg said that the standard is high for such retribution toward news organizations and that state-owned media by itself was fine.

The company decided to root out as much as it can of IRA, which was involved with posts including sponsoring fake pages that were pro-Trump, pro-border security and protesting police violence against minorities, among other topics.

The expanded response could provoke a backlash from Russian internet regulators.

Last October, Google followed up on reported connections between FAN and IRA by removing FAN stories from its search index. Media regulator Roskomnadzor asked Google for an explanation, saying that it needed to protect free speech.

Google then reinstated FAN, according to reports at the time. Facebook officials said its accounts and pages in question had 1 million unique followers on Facebook and 500,000 on Instagram, mainly in Russia, Ukraine, and nearby countries such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his college dorm room in 2004, personally kept quiet about the Cambridge Analytica data leak for four days before apologizing and outlining steps that he said would help protect personal data.

The 33-year-old billionaire plans to testify before U.S. lawmakers to explain Facebook’s privacy policies, a first for him, a source said last week, although he has so far not committed to doing the same for U.K. lawmakers.

Multiple investigations

Britain’s data protection authority, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and 37 U.S. state attorneys general are investigating Facebook’s handling of personal data.

Zuckerberg initially downplayed Facebook’s ability to sway voters, saying days after the U.S. elections that it was a “pretty crazy idea” that fake news stories had an influence.

Eventually, though, Facebook’s security staff concluded that the social network was being used by spies and other government agents to covertly spread disinformation among rivals and enemies.

Critics including U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have complained Facebook moved too slowly to investigate and counter information warfare. 

Facebook stepped up efforts to shutter fake accounts before a national election last year in France, and has said it will work with election authorities around the world to try to prevent meddling in politics.

The company, which is now one of the main ways politicians advertise to voters, plans to start a public archive showing all election-related ads, how much money was spent on each one, the number of impressions each receives and the demographics of the audience reached.

Facebook is on track to bring that data to U.S. voters before congressional elections in November, Zuckerberg said Tuesday. Facebook plans to send postcards by U.S. mail to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising.

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Experts: In Self-Driving Cars, Human Drivers and Standards Come Up Short

Autonomous cars should be required to meet standards on their ability to detect potential hazards, and better ways are needed to keep their human drivers ready to assume control, U.S. auto safety and technology experts said after fatal crashes involving Uber Technologies and Tesla vehicles.

Automakers and tech companies rely on human drivers to step in when necessary with self-driving technology. But in the two recent crashes, which involved vehicles using different kinds of technologies, neither of the human drivers took any action before the accidents.

Driverless cars rely on lidar, which uses laser light pulses to detect road hazards, as well as sensors such as radar and cameras. There are not, however, any standards on the systems, nor do all companies use the same combination of sensors, and some vehicles may have blind spots.

Queue the music for the human driver — music that drivers often find difficult to hear.

“Humans don’t have the ability to take over the vehicle as quickly as may be expected” in those situations, said self-driving expert and investor Evangelos Simoudis.

In the Uber crash last month, the ride-services company was testing a fully driverless system intended for commercial use when the prototype vehicle struck and killed a woman walking across an Arizona road. Video of the crash, taken from inside the vehicle, shows the driver at the wheel, seemingly looking down and not at the road. Just before the video stops, the driver looks upward toward the road and suddenly looks shocked.

In the Tesla incident last month, which involved a car that any consumer can buy, a Model X vehicle was in semi-autonomous Autopilot mode when it crashed, killing its driver. The driver had received earlier warnings to put his hands on the wheel, Tesla said.

Some semi-automated cars, like the Tesla, employ different technologies to help drivers stay in their lane or maintain a certain distance behind the vehicle in front. Those systems rely on alerts — beeping noises or a vibrating steering wheel — to get drivers’ attention.

‘Immature technology’

Duke University mechanical engineering professor Missy Cummings said the recent Uber and Tesla crashes show the “technology they are using is immature.”

Tesla says its technology is statistically proven to save lives through better driving. In a response to Reuters on Tuesday, Tesla said drivers have a “responsibility to maintain control of the car” whenever they enable Autopilot and need to be ready to respond to “audible and visual cues.”

An Uber spokesperson said, “safety is our primary concern every step of the way.”

A consumer group, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says a bill on self-driving cars now stalled in the U.S. Senate is an opportunity to improve safety, quite different from the bill’s original intent to quickly allow testing of self-driving cars without human controls on public roads. The group has proposed amending the bill, the AV START Act, to set standards for those vehicles — for instance, requiring a “vision test” for automated vehicles to test what their different sensors actually see.

The group believes the bill should also cover semi-automated systems like Tesla’s Autopilot — a lower level of technology than what is included in the current proposed legislation.

Other groups have also put forth proposals on self-driving cars, including requiring the vehicles and even semi-automated systems to meet performance targets, greater transparency and data from makers and operators of the vehicles, increased regulatory oversight, and better monitoring of and engagement with human drivers.

Role of drivers

Others want to focus on the human driver. In November, Consumer Reports magazine called on automakers for responsible labeling “to help consumers fully understand” their vehicles’ autonomous functions.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ head of automotive testing, said human drivers “are bad at paying attention to automation and this technology is not capable of reacting to all types of emergencies.

“It’s like being a passenger with a toddler driving the car,” he said.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is doing tests using semi-automated vehicles including models from Tesla, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and General Motors Co. The aim is to see how drivers use semi-autonomous technology — some watch the road with their hands above the wheel, others do not — and which warnings get their attention.

“We just don’t know enough about how drivers use any of these systems in the wild,” said MIT research scientist Bryan Reimer.

Timothy Carone, an autonomous systems expert and professor at Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business, said autonomous technology’s proponents must “find the right balance so the technology is tested right, but it isn’t hampered or halted.”

“Because in the long run it will save lives,” he said.

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Experts: In Self-Driving Cars, Human Drivers and Standards Come Up Short

Autonomous cars should be required to meet standards on their ability to detect potential hazards, and better ways are needed to keep their human drivers ready to assume control, U.S. auto safety and technology experts said after fatal crashes involving Uber Technologies and Tesla vehicles.

Automakers and tech companies rely on human drivers to step in when necessary with self-driving technology. But in the two recent crashes, which involved vehicles using different kinds of technologies, neither of the human drivers took any action before the accidents.

Driverless cars rely on lidar, which uses laser light pulses to detect road hazards, as well as sensors such as radar and cameras. There are not, however, any standards on the systems, nor do all companies use the same combination of sensors, and some vehicles may have blind spots.

Queue the music for the human driver — music that drivers often find difficult to hear.

“Humans don’t have the ability to take over the vehicle as quickly as may be expected” in those situations, said self-driving expert and investor Evangelos Simoudis.

In the Uber crash last month, the ride-services company was testing a fully driverless system intended for commercial use when the prototype vehicle struck and killed a woman walking across an Arizona road. Video of the crash, taken from inside the vehicle, shows the driver at the wheel, seemingly looking down and not at the road. Just before the video stops, the driver looks upward toward the road and suddenly looks shocked.

In the Tesla incident last month, which involved a car that any consumer can buy, a Model X vehicle was in semi-autonomous Autopilot mode when it crashed, killing its driver. The driver had received earlier warnings to put his hands on the wheel, Tesla said.

Some semi-automated cars, like the Tesla, employ different technologies to help drivers stay in their lane or maintain a certain distance behind the vehicle in front. Those systems rely on alerts — beeping noises or a vibrating steering wheel — to get drivers’ attention.

‘Immature technology’

Duke University mechanical engineering professor Missy Cummings said the recent Uber and Tesla crashes show the “technology they are using is immature.”

Tesla says its technology is statistically proven to save lives through better driving. In a response to Reuters on Tuesday, Tesla said drivers have a “responsibility to maintain control of the car” whenever they enable Autopilot and need to be ready to respond to “audible and visual cues.”

An Uber spokesperson said, “safety is our primary concern every step of the way.”

A consumer group, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, says a bill on self-driving cars now stalled in the U.S. Senate is an opportunity to improve safety, quite different from the bill’s original intent to quickly allow testing of self-driving cars without human controls on public roads. The group has proposed amending the bill, the AV START Act, to set standards for those vehicles — for instance, requiring a “vision test” for automated vehicles to test what their different sensors actually see.

The group believes the bill should also cover semi-automated systems like Tesla’s Autopilot — a lower level of technology than what is included in the current proposed legislation.

Other groups have also put forth proposals on self-driving cars, including requiring the vehicles and even semi-automated systems to meet performance targets, greater transparency and data from makers and operators of the vehicles, increased regulatory oversight, and better monitoring of and engagement with human drivers.

Role of drivers

Others want to focus on the human driver. In November, Consumer Reports magazine called on automakers for responsible labeling “to help consumers fully understand” their vehicles’ autonomous functions.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ head of automotive testing, said human drivers “are bad at paying attention to automation and this technology is not capable of reacting to all types of emergencies.

“It’s like being a passenger with a toddler driving the car,” he said.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is doing tests using semi-automated vehicles including models from Tesla, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and General Motors Co. The aim is to see how drivers use semi-autonomous technology — some watch the road with their hands above the wheel, others do not — and which warnings get their attention.

“We just don’t know enough about how drivers use any of these systems in the wild,” said MIT research scientist Bryan Reimer.

Timothy Carone, an autonomous systems expert and professor at Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business, said autonomous technology’s proponents must “find the right balance so the technology is tested right, but it isn’t hampered or halted.”

“Because in the long run it will save lives,” he said.

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New Gene Editing Tool May Yield Bigger Harvests

Bread and chocolate are staples of the American diet. And a scientific team in California is working hard to make sure the plants they’re made from are as robust as possible. They’re using a recently discovered bacterial gene-editing tool called CRISPR to create more pest-resistant crops.

CRISPR is a feature of the bacterial defense system. The microbes use it like a molecular pair of scissors, to precisely snip out viral infections in their DNA.

Scientists at the Innovative Genomics Institute in Berkeley, California, are using CRISPR to manipulate plant DNA. Managing director, Susan Jenkins, says the technique is so much faster and precise than other plant transformation methods, it will likely increase the speed of creating new plant varieties by years, if not decades. “What CRISPR is going to allow,” she explains, “is for us to go in and make these changes, and then within one generation of the plant actually have the trait we want.”

Rust-resistant wheat

 

While CRISPR speeds up plant breeding, Jenkins says it’s not a magic wand — changing a plant takes a lot of steps. She points to the Institute’s efforts to develop a wheat variety that resists a fungal rust that can reduce yields by nearly 50 percent.

First, scientists had to figure out just which gene was making the wheat vulnerable to fungal rust. Then they used CRISPR to remove that gene.

“So in this case, we use CRISPR to actually knock out a gene that is in the wheat,” Jenkins says. And because “snipping out” a gene does not add foreign material to a plant, last week, the USDA ruled that gene-changing methods like this do not require special regulatory approval.

 

Plant transformation expert Myeong-Je Cho says they started with a single gene-edited rust-resistant wheat cell, and grew it in the lab into wheat “clones” for further testing. After just over a year, some clones are now stalks of wheat, and Cho adds, “we have grownup plants in the greenhouse,” complete with normal stalks and robust seed heads.

While the Institute introduced no foreign genetic material into the wheat, CRISPR technology can also be used to introduce genes, even genes from other species, as is done with more traditional GMO crops. However, in standard GMO techniques, scientists use a “shotgun” approach to force new genes into a plant’s DNA in random places. Then, they choose which random change is most likely to grow healthy plants. In contrast, CRISPR is used when scientists want to add a specific gene at a specific location in the DNA. CRISPR offers that level of precision.

Protecting cacao trees

The bacterial gene known as Cas9 evolved to snip viruses out of bacterial DNA. Now Institute scientists want to use it to fight a virus that’s attacking cacao trees in West Africa.

The swollen shoot virus evolved in other plants, then, half a century ago, “jumped species” to cacao trees, which it can kill in just three years. So Jenkins says, the Institute is working to add virus resistance to cacao tree DNA, by inserting the Cas9 resistance gene. After all, she says, “If the bacteria have already evolved this to fight this viral infection, we are just going to take that mechanism and put it directly into the plant.”

 

The Institute plans to start growing cacao trees resistant to swollen shoot virus within a year. That is fast, according to Institute Science Director, Brian Staskawicz. He points out, “What this technology can do is to allow us work with the elite cultivars of a plant and basically change them for drought resistance and cold tolerance and disease resistance in a more rapid fashion than classical plant breeding.”

 

Staskawicz says that modifying cacao tree DNA is an exciting project from a technical standpoint, because cacao plants are unusually difficult to clone and genetically transform.

Public attitudes towards genetically modified crops

However, some challenges will go beyond whether the changes are technically possible. Those other challenges become evident at the Diablo Farmer’s market near Berkeley, where vendors like chocolatier Eli Curtis pride themselves on selling craft, organic foods. Curtis suspects we could increase cocoa yields by helping farmers be better stewards of wild cacao trees. He’s not sure consumers will like the idea of gene-edited chocolate, but if CRISPR leads to more pest-resistant crops, he says, “I definitely understand the value. But I also understand consumer apprehension.”

 

Nevertheless, Staskawicz says we need faster plant-breeding techniques like CRISPR because we are in a race, one we need to win, because there are currently 7.3 billion people on earth.

“By 2050 there are going to be nine billion people, and the estimates are that we actually need to increase food production by 70 percent. So we are going to need a way to actually increase the yield of these plants to feed the population of the world.”

CRISPR can help do that. He and his team hope, within a decade, CRISPR’d crops may be ingredients in many things, including bread and chocolate.

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New Gene Editing Tool May Yield Bigger Harvests

Bread and chocolate are staples of the American diet. And a scientific team in California is working hard to make sure the plants they’re made from are as robust as possible. They’re using a recently discovered bacterial gene-editing tool called CRISPR to create more pest-resistant crops.

CRISPR is a feature of the bacterial defense system. The microbes use it like a molecular pair of scissors, to precisely snip out viral infections in their DNA.

Scientists at the Innovative Genomics Institute in Berkeley, California, are using CRISPR to manipulate plant DNA. Managing director, Susan Jenkins, says the technique is so much faster and precise than other plant transformation methods, it will likely increase the speed of creating new plant varieties by years, if not decades. “What CRISPR is going to allow,” she explains, “is for us to go in and make these changes, and then within one generation of the plant actually have the trait we want.”

Rust-resistant wheat

 

While CRISPR speeds up plant breeding, Jenkins says it’s not a magic wand — changing a plant takes a lot of steps. She points to the Institute’s efforts to develop a wheat variety that resists a fungal rust that can reduce yields by nearly 50 percent.

First, scientists had to figure out just which gene was making the wheat vulnerable to fungal rust. Then they used CRISPR to remove that gene.

“So in this case, we use CRISPR to actually knock out a gene that is in the wheat,” Jenkins says. And because “snipping out” a gene does not add foreign material to a plant, last week, the USDA ruled that gene-changing methods like this do not require special regulatory approval.

 

Plant transformation expert Myeong-Je Cho says they started with a single gene-edited rust-resistant wheat cell, and grew it in the lab into wheat “clones” for further testing. After just over a year, some clones are now stalks of wheat, and Cho adds, “we have grownup plants in the greenhouse,” complete with normal stalks and robust seed heads.

While the Institute introduced no foreign genetic material into the wheat, CRISPR technology can also be used to introduce genes, even genes from other species, as is done with more traditional GMO crops. However, in standard GMO techniques, scientists use a “shotgun” approach to force new genes into a plant’s DNA in random places. Then, they choose which random change is most likely to grow healthy plants. In contrast, CRISPR is used when scientists want to add a specific gene at a specific location in the DNA. CRISPR offers that level of precision.

Protecting cacao trees

The bacterial gene known as Cas9 evolved to snip viruses out of bacterial DNA. Now Institute scientists want to use it to fight a virus that’s attacking cacao trees in West Africa.

The swollen shoot virus evolved in other plants, then, half a century ago, “jumped species” to cacao trees, which it can kill in just three years. So Jenkins says, the Institute is working to add virus resistance to cacao tree DNA, by inserting the Cas9 resistance gene. After all, she says, “If the bacteria have already evolved this to fight this viral infection, we are just going to take that mechanism and put it directly into the plant.”

 

The Institute plans to start growing cacao trees resistant to swollen shoot virus within a year. That is fast, according to Institute Science Director, Brian Staskawicz. He points out, “What this technology can do is to allow us work with the elite cultivars of a plant and basically change them for drought resistance and cold tolerance and disease resistance in a more rapid fashion than classical plant breeding.”

 

Staskawicz says that modifying cacao tree DNA is an exciting project from a technical standpoint, because cacao plants are unusually difficult to clone and genetically transform.

Public attitudes towards genetically modified crops

However, some challenges will go beyond whether the changes are technically possible. Those other challenges become evident at the Diablo Farmer’s market near Berkeley, where vendors like chocolatier Eli Curtis pride themselves on selling craft, organic foods. Curtis suspects we could increase cocoa yields by helping farmers be better stewards of wild cacao trees. He’s not sure consumers will like the idea of gene-edited chocolate, but if CRISPR leads to more pest-resistant crops, he says, “I definitely understand the value. But I also understand consumer apprehension.”

 

Nevertheless, Staskawicz says we need faster plant-breeding techniques like CRISPR because we are in a race, one we need to win, because there are currently 7.3 billion people on earth.

“By 2050 there are going to be nine billion people, and the estimates are that we actually need to increase food production by 70 percent. So we are going to need a way to actually increase the yield of these plants to feed the population of the world.”

CRISPR can help do that. He and his team hope, within a decade, CRISPR’d crops may be ingredients in many things, including bread and chocolate.

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Facebook Faces Calls to Further Protect User Privacy

Facebook is a company in a hurry.

 

Since the world learned about the latest customer data controversy at Facebook, the social media network has unleashed a swarm of changes. But it’s unclear whether Facebook’s own reckoning will be enough to satisfy regulators and lawmakers.

 

“We’ve reached a tipping point with Facebook and privacy,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest advocacy group. “What’s most interesting at this moment are the number of forces — political, economic and social — that are converging. And I think the practical consequences is that something big will change.”

 

With more than 2 billion customers, Facebook has been in the hot seat in recent weeks over how an outside researcher gave the data of 50 million users to the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.

What if anything Cambridge Analytica has done with the data is unclear — the company claims it deleted it. But the situation has shone a spotlight on how much personal data is available on Facebook and how it is handled.

 

Pulling advertising

 

Sonos, a consumer electronics firm, Pep Boys, an auto parts and service retailer, Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, all stopped advertising on Facebook in response to the controversy.

 

“We would like to see a bit more transparency to the consumer and a bit more choice to the consumer,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

 

Her message to Facebook: “When you start taking this a bit more seriously and you start focusing and making changes, we’ll go back.”

In a Facebook post and an appearance on CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the controversy and vowed to do more to protect user data. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” he said.

The company also placed ads in Britain and the U.S. apologizing for a “breach of trust.”

A bevy of self-imposed changes

 

As state and federal regulators opened investigations and several congressional committees called on Zuckerberg to testify, Facebook has been busy rolling out changes.

 

The company made it easier for users to change privacy settings and has given them a quick way to download all the data that Facebook has on them. It has also cut off major data brokers.

 

Facebook may know soon whether its efforts will be enough.

 

Regulation or self-government?

 

Silicon Valley firms have long held that self-regulation, rather than government-imposed rules and regulations, would best allow for innovation. But the company also faces a bevy of state, federal and international regulators, which all may act against the firm.

 

In the U.S., Facebook’s chief concern is the Federal Trade Commission, which confirmed last month that it had opened an investigation into the company’s practices.

 

A key question will be if Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree it has with the consumer protection agency to obtain users’ permissions for everything it does with users’ data. Each violation is supposed to come with a $40,000 fine, which some analysts have speculated could cost Facebook billions.

 

In addition to the FTC, several state attorneys general have opened up an investigation into Facebook.

 

Beyond regulators, lawmakers in Washington and in state houses around the country are discussing what can be done to better protect social media customers. Zuckerberg is expected to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

 

Meanwhile, the company faces possible investigations in Britain and Canada.

 

Outside scrutiny

 

It is not just Facebook that deserves more scrutiny but all of the “advertising-powered web,” said Gennie Gebhart, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

 

“While Facebook is in the spotlight right now for very good reason, this is not just a Facebook problem,” Gebhart said. “We have a surveillance based business model that powers much of the web that cannot continue to coexist with privacy rights.”

 

She calls for independent audits done by a “party who is not accountable to Facebook but accountable to users.”

 

Rotenberg of EPIC said governments around the world shouldn’t leave it to U.S. and European regulators and lawmakers to regulate social media and user privacy.

 

“Coming up with new solutions that provide for the benefits of technology but at the same time address the real risks is a very good undertaking,” he said. “I think you’ll see throughout Asia, South America, the African continent robust debate about Facebook and other social media.”

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Facebook Faces Calls to Further Protect User Privacy

Facebook is a company in a hurry.

 

Since the world learned about the latest customer data controversy at Facebook, the social media network has unleashed a swarm of changes. But it’s unclear whether Facebook’s own reckoning will be enough to satisfy regulators and lawmakers.

 

“We’ve reached a tipping point with Facebook and privacy,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest advocacy group. “What’s most interesting at this moment are the number of forces — political, economic and social — that are converging. And I think the practical consequences is that something big will change.”

 

With more than 2 billion customers, Facebook has been in the hot seat in recent weeks over how an outside researcher gave the data of 50 million users to the political research firm Cambridge Analytica.

What if anything Cambridge Analytica has done with the data is unclear — the company claims it deleted it. But the situation has shone a spotlight on how much personal data is available on Facebook and how it is handled.

 

Pulling advertising

 

Sonos, a consumer electronics firm, Pep Boys, an auto parts and service retailer, Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, all stopped advertising on Facebook in response to the controversy.

 

“We would like to see a bit more transparency to the consumer and a bit more choice to the consumer,” said Denelle Dixon, chief operating officer at Mozilla.

 

Her message to Facebook: “When you start taking this a bit more seriously and you start focusing and making changes, we’ll go back.”

In a Facebook post and an appearance on CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the controversy and vowed to do more to protect user data. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” he said.

The company also placed ads in Britain and the U.S. apologizing for a “breach of trust.”

A bevy of self-imposed changes

 

As state and federal regulators opened investigations and several congressional committees called on Zuckerberg to testify, Facebook has been busy rolling out changes.

 

The company made it easier for users to change privacy settings and has given them a quick way to download all the data that Facebook has on them. It has also cut off major data brokers.

 

Facebook may know soon whether its efforts will be enough.

 

Regulation or self-government?

 

Silicon Valley firms have long held that self-regulation, rather than government-imposed rules and regulations, would best allow for innovation. But the company also faces a bevy of state, federal and international regulators, which all may act against the firm.

 

In the U.S., Facebook’s chief concern is the Federal Trade Commission, which confirmed last month that it had opened an investigation into the company’s practices.

 

A key question will be if Facebook violated a 2011 consent decree it has with the consumer protection agency to obtain users’ permissions for everything it does with users’ data. Each violation is supposed to come with a $40,000 fine, which some analysts have speculated could cost Facebook billions.

 

In addition to the FTC, several state attorneys general have opened up an investigation into Facebook.

 

Beyond regulators, lawmakers in Washington and in state houses around the country are discussing what can be done to better protect social media customers. Zuckerberg is expected to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

 

Meanwhile, the company faces possible investigations in Britain and Canada.

 

Outside scrutiny

 

It is not just Facebook that deserves more scrutiny but all of the “advertising-powered web,” said Gennie Gebhart, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.

 

“While Facebook is in the spotlight right now for very good reason, this is not just a Facebook problem,” Gebhart said. “We have a surveillance based business model that powers much of the web that cannot continue to coexist with privacy rights.”

 

She calls for independent audits done by a “party who is not accountable to Facebook but accountable to users.”

 

Rotenberg of EPIC said governments around the world shouldn’t leave it to U.S. and European regulators and lawmakers to regulate social media and user privacy.

 

“Coming up with new solutions that provide for the benefits of technology but at the same time address the real risks is a very good undertaking,” he said. “I think you’ll see throughout Asia, South America, the African continent robust debate about Facebook and other social media.”

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